The Long And Short Of It; or, "Right-Sizing" Your Ideas

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)



I’m challenging myself to write short (or at least, shorter) stories this summer. However, one of the things I’m struggling with is how to tell the short story ideas from the novel-length ones.

Two weeks ago, I started on a fairy story. I was pretty sure that was a short story. Until I started writing it. Now I’m thinking it might end up being a novel. I’m going to try to write it as a short story or novelette anyway, but I don’t hold out much hope.

I think one of my problems is that when I get story ideas, what I really get are characters and scenarios, and not complete plots. So my story idea looks something like, “A woman who is trying to sell her house discovers a fairy circle at the bottom of her garden, which is going to have a large negative impact on the sale of the house.” I may even know things like: The woman is a widow, in her fifties, and just got laid off from her job recently. Her sister has been living with her to try to help make ends meet. The woman’s name is Beryl and her sister’s name is Edna. The house is in Connecticut. Lots of good and useful details. I’m only missing one important thing.

I don’t know how the story gets resolved.

That’s not quite true. I’m beginning to have a glimmering of an idea. But when I look at the idea, I think to myself, “That’s gonna take more than 10,000 words to set up, percolate, and resolve.” Then I start thinking that maybe I should save this for a longer story after all.

The one “short” story I’ve completed so far this summer has been critiqued, and one of the questions some of the readers asked was, “Is this really a short story, or the start of something larger?” And I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t come back and add more to the story at some point. (Actually, I think it reads like the pilot for a TV series, but I don’t know that it’s interesting enough to sell in that market, so perhaps I should consider alternative media. Web serialization, perhaps?)

I’m not short on story ideas. During a network outage at work today, I started writing yet another new story, about a princess who is “sturdy” … and I’m already wondering if it’s not a novel. Hmm, maybe it’s YA? Those are supposed to be shorter, aren’t they?

But what I do seem to be short on are short story ideas. Ones that can be told in fewer than 5,000 words.

Anybody have any suggestions for telling when an idea is suitable for a short story? (At this point, I’m beginning to think that “write porn” would be a valid option…)


Oh, and for those who were wondering, no, I have not managed to move into my new office yet. The painting is done, though, and the curtain rods are hung in the other room that I am finishing. But the office is not yet done. Don’t worry, I’ll happily (giddily) post to let everyone know when it is. (I bought a rockin’ cool desk lamp for my big wooden desk, though. Very Victorian-looking.)


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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